DOT Forces Airlines to Disclose Fees, Add Other Passenger Protections

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(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The U.S. Department of Transportation announced tougher rules designed to protect airline passengers today. The new requirements deal with baggage fees, tarmac wait times and compensation for travelers bumped from flights.

Most of the rule changes announced have to do with fees and costs to passengers. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said airlines will be required to reimburse passengers for baggage fees if a bag is lost, though not if it is late."People get so upset and mad that their bag didn't make it, and then they find out that they're not even going to be reimbursed? It's ridiculous," LaHood told NPR.

Airlines will also be required to "prominently disclose all potential fees" on their websites. That includes baggage fees, but also meal costs, seat upgrade fees as well as government taxes and surcharges. Currently government fees aren't required to be included in the posted price of an airline ticket. Additionally, the compensation for passengers who are involuntarily bumped from flights is being doubled.

“Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly,” said Secretary LaHood in a statement. “It’s just common sense that if an airline loses your bag or you get bumped from a flight because it was oversold, you should be reimbursed.

LaHood also told NPR the DOT was enshrining these policies in regulation because the industry was not doing it on their own. "Competition has not taken care of these problems. We would not be addressing them if competition had done that," LaHood said.

Another new rule annouced today expands the ban on legnthy tarmac delays. Airlines can be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger if a plane stays on the tarmac more than four hours. That 2009 rule nearly eliminated the dreaded experience of being stranded for hours trapped in a grounded plane. From May 2009 to February 2010 that happened 664 times, a year later, after the rule took effect, during the same period there were just 16 incidents.

Right now, only domestic airlines are required comply, but the new rule extends the fines to international carriers as well. The DOT says it is taking this action, in part, because of an incident at New York's JFK airport during a blizzard last winter when an international carrier held passengers for 11 hours.

Carriers must also provide water and access to working bathrooms after two hours.

Listen to the NPR report here. See the full announcement at the DOT website.

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